Before Maslow, most psychologists had focused on the negative – the ill and the abnormal. Maslow focused on the positive – the conditions necessary for a person to fulfill their highest potential, which he called “self-actualizing”, and have “peak” experiences. He developed a “hierarchy of needs” that is like a ladder each individual has to climb before they can self-actualize. At the bottom of the ladder are the most basic needs for survival – air, food, water. After these needs are fulfilled most people seek safety and security. Then come social and psychological needs like belonging, love, and acceptance. At the top of the ladder are the needs to fulfill creative and productive potential.
Maslow is often considered the founder of the humanistic school of psychology, which teaches that people have the inner resources to solve their problems, and that the point of therapy is to remove the obstacles that prevent a person from solving their own problems. In terms of being inward-focused, Maslow’s work is similar to the philosophy of 15th century Chinese philosopher Wang Yang-ming. Maslow’s most important book is “Motivation and Personality” (1954).
Maslow was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, the eldest of seven children. He attended City College in New York and the University of Wisconsin for graduate school. From 1937 to 1951 he was on the faculty of Brooklyn College. Maslow was a professor at Brandeis University from 1951 to 1969, and then became a resident fellow of the Laughlin Institute in California. He died of a heart attack in 1970.